SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: September 29, 2019
SNIP: This year’s annual minimum of the Arctic sea ice tied with the second-lowest extent on record, a mere 1.6m sq miles, and badly affected polar bear populations that live and hunt on the north slope of Alaska, plus those that live on the ice floes in the Bering Sea.
“Now the ice has gone way offshore we know that the bears aren’t feeding, and the bears that are forced on to land don’t find much to eat. The longer the sea ice is gone from the productive zone the tougher it is on the bears,” said Polar Bears International’s Steven Amstrup.
In 2015, the group reported that the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea had declined by 40% over the previous decade. “We can only anticipate that those declines have continued,” Amstrup said.
The loss of sea ice this year was so pronounced early in the season that tagging crews from the US Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that the sea ice offshore in the western arctic was too thin and unstable to be able to conduct their studies – the first time the team have pulled their studies because of safety issues.
That’s a far cry from the two decades to 2010 when Amstrup did two two-month field studies a year.
In recent years, the spring season has also been severely hampered by open water, fog and bad weather. This year, the trends were repeated. Amstrup said: “The ice in the spring … was really tough this year. What ice was there was thin and rough this year. That’s part of progressive trend that we’ve seen over several years.”
For polar bear populations, the circumstances are grim. Those that live on shore aren’t finding much to eat, says Amstrup, and those that live permanently on the pack ice don’t appear to be feeding much either.
“They’re having a long fast in the summer and there’s a limit to how long that fast can last. We’re already seeing indications in terms of poorer cub survival in the Beaufort Sea. An adult bear has a lot of body mass, and maybe can get through a long summer fast, but young bears don’t have the body mass or hunting skills to survive,” he said.